By Chris Akiri
YET, under section 23 of the proposed anti-progress Law, “Any organization registered under this Act shall not be entitled to diplomatic or consular privileges or immunities”, a provision designed to starve NGOs of funds.
Then section 24 covers the field, as it were, by providing that, under the pain of a prohibitive fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for eighteen months, “it shall be an offence for any person to operate a Non-Governmental Organization in Nigeria for welfare, research, health relief, agriculture, education, industry, the supply of amenities or any other similar purposes without registration and certificate under this Act” (the dog-in-the- manger provision).
If and whenever an NGO obtains any funds from any quarters, national or international, according to this Bill, the NGO must not only disclose its source(s) of income but must render an account (a financial statement of its expenses, subject to periodic audit by the Federal Government). In default of this provision, the defaulter(s) will be liable to imprisonment for up to 18 months. Imagine the les Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) (Doctors without Borders), a Non-Governmental Organization, advancing the cause of humanity and best known in war-torn regions and in developing countries afflicted by endemic diseases, being required by the French Government to show the sources of their income and the use thereof or creating a Commission and a Board to supervise their activities! The NGOs in Nigeria are to this country what the MSF is to the international community.
Since Churches are categorized as NGOs or Civil Society Organizations, the NGO Regulatory Bill is patently a political subterfuge to bring Christianity under Government control with a grand design to arrest its growth and expansion by supervising and monitoring its operations as well as superintending the activities of its clerics; yet steering clear of religion and religious matters by a government, any government, is the beginning of wisdom. That was the gravamen of the very First Amendment of the US Constitution in 1791, when the US Government distanced itself from all religious matters. In the language of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), though an amalgam of irreconcilable inconsistencies, enshrines secularity in its section 10 and the fundamental freedoms of worship, speech and association in its Chapter Four. Similar and identical provisions can be found in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (domesticated as Cap. 10, LFN. 1990) and in several Treaties and Conventions to which Nigeria is signatory. The NGO Regulatory Bill must NEVER become Law.